Albeit not the only indicator, poverty, and unemployment undoubtedly play up strongly in the set of variables considered when deciding to participate in a crime. Two other foundational decision factors are escape opportunities and the monetary or other benefits from the criminality. Given good prospects in the foundational decision variables, the presence of lack, gauged by unemployment and poverty, may mean an ample green light for participation. The criminal option may be the most feasible way out of severe socio-economic deprivation, which unemployment and poverty typically orchestrate in many instances. An aggravated or a malignant version of this situation is more evident under conditions of extreme socio-economic inequality.
Our country is a fine example of such high inequality where plenty of impoverished and unemployed people coexist with many stupendously wealthy people that are products of swept-under-the-carpet economic crimes. The media is awash with stories of the embezzlement of public funds by most of Nigeria’s leaders in the past four decades. The stories and solid pieces of evidence of how ordinary Nigerians who never toiled under the sun for anything became billionaires abound everywhere. Consequently, many at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder believe that their conditions were incidental upon the thieving activities that prospered those at the upper end. Such resentment against the prosperous every so often leads to violent crimes. It also explains the underlying rationale for some kinds of kidnapping and hostage-taking behaviour.
In the same vein, crime provides an alternative time and other resource utilization window for the unemployed or underemployed. Several internet fraudsters, for instance, are mostly information technology whizkids who initially could not be gainfully hired but found alternative rewarding use of their time and expertise to make income. The same goes for political thugs, bandits, and terrorist mercenaries. Undeniably the mal-adjustments in the labour market affecting income opportunities make crime quite attractive. That is why many studies reveal a strong direct relationship between high levels of criminality in cities or communities with high levels of unemployment. Unemployed people who find income through crime an attractive option usually benefit from ample time for planning criminal activities. They derive the motivation and drive from the associated deprivation similar to those in poverty.
In any case, we have both the poor and unemployed in substantial numbers. With the exclusion of Borno state, the Nigerian Bureau of statistics officially classified 40.1% of the Nigerian population as poor, based on the poverty headcount rates as of 2020. Most Nigerians know that this is a gross underestimation of the magnitude of poverty on the ground. Unofficial estimates from reputable economic advisory groups put the rates as high as 65%. However, even if we accept this official data to be accurate, it still shows that, on average, eighteen states [representing 50%] of the country’s subnational governments are below the national poverty line. Approximately 90% of the states with high terrorism activities fall within this poverty categorization. In the same vein, this poverty level is more pronounced among persons with no education of any kind or with only primary or less than primary education. The poverty headcount rates for those without education and less than primary school education is as high as 66%. Comparably, those whose occupation is only agricultural also have a significantly high poverty headcount rate. Ironically, unofficial statistics show that the agricultural sector is the highest employer of labour, with approximately 70% of Nigerians making up the sector’s labour force.
A sad complement to the poverty condition is the rising unemployment rates. As of the fourth quarter of 2020, the official unemployment rate was as high as 33.3%. As alarming as that was, significant evidence showed that this number considerably increased afterwards. For the same period, the unemployment rate for the youth based on the African Union’s definition, which ranges from 15 to 34 years, was approximately 90.6%. For the age bracket between fifteen and twenty-four, it was 53.4%, while for those between twenty-five and thirty-four years of age, it was 37.2%. It is also within this age bracket that approximately 97% of violent criminals belong. It is difficult to imagine that we would not have much more levels of criminal activities given that only 10% of those between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four are employed. What do we expect 90% of healthy young men and women to do with their lives if they are unemployed at their primes?
The relationships between crime, poverty and unemployment, are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing as criminal activities directly and otherwise lead to socio-economic misery. Directly, income-earning opportunities in crime often mislead those involved into believing that they are conveniently employed. Some people engaged in this illicit entrepreneurship retire undetected with our country’s poor policing and justice system. But, the most significant effect of crime on poverty and unemployment is its capacity to orchestrate environments that are not safe for investment activities. Territories that are high crime-prone scares investors away. All things being equal, the first consideration of every investor is about the degree of threats to life and the investable assets within the prospective environment of business. Crime threatens both life and investable assets. The implication is that such places suffer either sustained stagnation or a leftward shift in the supply of investable resources. Except where the government directly intervenes with own-provided jobs, without consistent growth in new investments, there will be a continuous growth in the level of unemployment, low per capita income and poverty rates. Terrorism activities in the Northeast and Northwest parts of the country have considerably stagnated entrepreneurial activities in those areas. The longer the time that banditry and religious insurgency last in those jurisdictions, the more the retardation of enterprise and the attendant growth of poverty.
Unfortunately, the elements facilitating unemployment and poverty in any country are well and alive and properly manured in Nigeria. Inequities, corruption, the absence of the rule of law, poor public goods provision, poor quality and poorly targeted fiscal programs and their implementation, among other factors, are some of the many ingredients facilitating poverty and unemployment growth. That suggests that it may take a long time for our country to scale down these monsters’ magnitude and height substantially. We already know that we cannot successfully reduce unemployment and poverty significantly without entrepreneurial progress. Investors must be on the ground to sustainably create opportunities for employment and income. But, the success of entrepreneurial activities depends on a conducive environment guaranteeing the safety of lives and property and effective contract enforcement that equally relies on the effectiveness of the rule of law.
However, the rule of law and the justice system in the country appears to be nonexistent or, at best, operating at a kwashiorkor level. The poor quality of fiscal programs whose budget design always comprehensively signs up for failure is the other spectrum. The implementation rates, in most cases, are nothing short of a consciously condoned disaster. We can endlessly establish additional interactions that demonstrate the enormity of the problem and our unreadiness to deal with them. And without a carefully thought out and patriotically implemented return to the path of prosperity, the journey into the dark realms of poverty and unemployment fuelling criminal activities will continue unabated.
Youth unemployment powers political thuggery, local militancy, and other social vices in more specific terms. For instance, the enormity of the political thuggery situation is palpable considering the horde of young people at the beck and call of political office aspirants. They swarm visibly in most political events seeking opportunities to participate in anything, whether for good or bad. We can also extend this analysis to the effects of joblessness on social relationships, such as marriage. Unemployment within a marriage context can also be union destabilizing and frustrating and may lead to unacceptable social and criminal behaviour.
Therefore, reducing the incidences of crime requires a corresponding drop in unemployment and poverty rates. Unfortunately, poverty alleviation programs do not take away poverty. The most effective antidote to poverty is wealth creation achieved through high entrepreneurial activities. All things being equal, efforts to contain violence and terrorism, revamp our justice system and decadent social infrastructure may sanitize the environment and make it more enabling for business activities. But the prospects for the speedy realization of the substantial part of the set targets on these programs and projects are pretty bleak. Yet, massive entrepreneurial revamp and many youths’ attendant employment will be continually dashed without such an enabling environment. Income and the prospects of exiting poverty equally depend on these conditions.
Finally, containing large-scale criminal behaviour through poverty elimination and unemployment reduction channels will require first and foremost that policymakers not only internalize this relationship but consciously develop well-funded and channel-specific intervention programs. There is no clear link between the two model variables because of the complications created by many other layers of interactions connecting other dysfunctional parts of the system. This complication makes the solution modelling more challenging than it ordinarily would be. Nevertheless, giving substandard attention to the challenge will only create avenues for further confusing the resolution channels. A crucial option in this regard would be the mainstreaming of the modified two-track Igbo internship program as a national framework for urgently creating the needed entrepreneurial skills, education and employment for our teeming youth. The two-track system ensures that young people in the internship programs also receive some formalization of their learning. They shall also receive certificates corresponding to the quality and rigour expected of such training. The outcomes from this kind of program on crime reduction and employment creation at a national level will be revolutionary.